McIlroy channels anger at LaCava into Ryder Cup personal best

golf01 October 2023 17:23| © Reuters
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Rory McIlroy © Gallo Images

Rory McIlroy was already on pace to set a new personal-best Ryder Cup record this weekend at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club. Then the US team poured gasoline on his inner fire.

McIlroy made it clear on Sunday that his anger had turned into motivation as he finished the week 4-1-0 to help Team Europe stamp out the Americans' faint hopes and win the 44th Ryder Cup, 16 1/2-11 1/2.

The Northern Irishman was more than a bit cross with Joe LaCava, the caddie for Patrick Cantlay, when LaCava got in McIlroy's putting line while celebrating on the 18th green Saturday.

TV cameras in Rome then captured McIlroy shouting at someone off-screen in the parking lot Saturday evening while Ireland's Shane Lowry had to restrain him and push him into their car.

"This can't happen. This can't happen. It's a (expletive) disgrace," McIlroy said, presumably to LaCava. Another American caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, was nearby.

NBC Sports reported Sunday morning that McIlroy and LaCava met before Sunday's singles matches began to hash out their differences, but McIlroy denied it.

After McIlroy defeated Sam Burns 3 and 1, he was asked in his post-match interview on NBC whether he felt better after "clearing the air with Joe." McIlroy responded with a blank stare.

"I haven't met Joe," McIlroy said, twice.

"I was focused. I was very focused. I let it fuel me," he continued. "I didn't let it take way from what's been a fantastic week. I used that little incident last night to my advantage."

The grudge was clearly still fresh when McIlroy spoke to BBC Radio after beating Burns.

"Walking off 18 (Saturday) was probably the angriest I've ever been in my career," McIlroy said. "I said it to the US guys, I thought it was disgraceful what went on. I made that clear.

"But again, I needed to calm myself down because I could've let it, you know, sort of bring me down the wrong path and I didn't. I let it focus me."

McIlroy had never won more than three points at a Ryder Cup, and he had a career-worst record of 1-3-0 in 2021 when the US routed Team Europe 19-9.

The four-time major champion made sure Saturday's four-ball loss to Cantlay and Wyndham Clark would be his only blotch of the week. He won four of his first seven holes Sunday against Burns, with birdies on three, and led 4 up through 11 holes before sealing the deal with a 13-foot birdie at the par-3 17th.

LaCava was Tiger Woods' longtime caddie before Woods granted him permission to take up Cantlay's bag fulltime back in May.

When Cantlay sank a 43-foot birdie putt at No 18 in the final match Saturday, his teammates celebrated by waving their hats in the air – a reference to Cantlay's controversial decision not to sport the US hat this week.

LaCava then joined in on the party, even though McIlroy and teammate Matt Fitzpatrick of England still had putts to tie the hole. After words were exchanged on the green, both missed.